Rival's tenets seep into Ranger plan

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Forest Park’s Francis Bohnenkamper, right, Bailey Schulz, left, drove back teammate Bailey Schulz during a practice drill at the Ferdinand State Forest earlier this month. The Rangers have funneled more time into blocking and tackling this season under first-year coach Ross Fuhs, who’s set for a Friday night encounter against his alma mater. Southridge will visit Ferdinand on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Herald Sports Editor

Southridge offensive coordinator Brad Ohanian knows that sooner or later, his old buddy will harden the football culture at Forest Park.


There’s at least one instance of proof.

Ohanian remembers his sophomore year at Southridge when he and Ross Fuhs, the first-year Forest Park coach, were varsity rookies playing in a game of big-boy hitting at South Spencer. Fuhs was crunched in the face hard enough that his helmet — and his head — were both knocked silly.

“His goggles were broken, he was looking out the earhole of his helmet, and his nose was bleeding, and he was getting ready to leave the field,” Ohanian recalled. “I grabbed him and I said, ‘Where are you going?’ and he said, ‘I can’t see anything.’ And I said, ‘Get back in here.’ The next play, he blocked and we scored a touchdown on it. That’s the kind of guy Ross is.”

The friendship will be tabled for a few hours Friday night, when Ohanian and Southridge (1-1) visit Fuhs and the Rangers (0-2) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Ohanian and Fuhs have been best friends “since I can remember,” Ohanian said — their fathers are also buddies, and as a group, they attended high school football games around the state when Brad and Ross were kids. The two still talk practically daily. And Ohanian will be the best man in Fuhs’ wedding next summer — Ohanian laughed when saying he hopes that arrangement will remain should the Raiders win Friday.

When Fuhs was hired last December, Ohanian also joked that Southridge owns a patent on the Wing-T offense, telling Fuhs if he saw him running the same thing in Ferdinand, there’d be trouble. Fuhs has borrowed elements from his Raider days; the Rangers have run the ball on 71 percent of their plays through the first two games compared to 60 percent a year ago, and Fuhs said some of the formations and blitzing packages are similar to the ones he used at his alma mater. Forest Park also starts practices with a “team takeoff” of running through offensive plays without a defense, and Fuhs made a point to incorporate a smaller detail like proper stretching into an everyday part of practice.

At the moment, Fuhs is keeping his approach more elemental than anything.

“I just try to be positive right now, is the big thing,” Fuhs said. “Some of these guys are down a little bit, and the biggest thing is being positive. We’ve had really good practices” this week.

One thing that stuck out to Fuhs was the Rangers needed toughness with tackling. In years past, to avoid the prospect of injuries within a thinner roster, tackling and blocking drills weren’t a constant presence on the practice menu. When it was, the Rangers completed the drills while matching up personnel: receivers went in one group to practice tackling against each other; linemen were in another group.

Things are different now, meaning a 6-foot-2, 165-pound receiver like Austin Fisher is thrown into the ring against a teammate with plenty of weight to throw around.

“This year, we’d break down just random people, so you’d (have receivers) tackling linemen and linemen tackling receivers,” Fisher said. “You have to work a lot harder. This year, it’s a lot better. It’s more difficult in practice, but it gets you a lot better, definitely.

“It’s a lot more physical work in practice, as you can see right now.”

As Fisher talked, one of those individual blocking showdowns unfolded across the practice field. Both players kicked up plumes of dust as they grappled for traction against each other. When it was finished, Fuhs bolted into the picture and enthusiastically slapped the shoulder pads of one of the players.

“From the very first drill we did to now, definitely the mechanics are better, the fundamentals of tackling are better,” Fuhs said. “Overall, I think everybody has definitely improved.”

There’s still work to do to fortify a defense that’s given up 305 and 366 yards of rushing over the first two Fridays. It’s Ohanian’s job that the Raiders post similar numbers this week. And it’s made for a slight alteration of the routine between friends.

Ohanian and Fuhs met for breakfast Sunday morning. “Yeah, probably not as much talk (about football) this week,” he told Fuhs when they met. “Nope,” his buddy said in understood agreement.

Even with no words exchanged, though, Ohanian knows exactly what Fuhs is up to.

“You can see he’s doing good things there. His players are playing hard, and they’re trying to do the right things,” Ohanian said. “You can definitely see a toughness stamp on what he’s doing over there.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

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